SC must nullify electoral bonds scheme to ensure level playing field for all parties
Latest data shows that the BJP secured more than 80 per cent of the funds from this scheme
Latest reports that the BJP offered a few legislators of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti money amounting to Rs 100 crore to get them to switch allegiance has created a political furore even as the BJP, as usual, denied the allegation.
However, such a move by the BJP is nothing new. In fact, ever since the BJP came to power in 2014 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a deliberate policy of seeking funds from the top industrialists of the country to bolster BJP's election kitty has been followed. In the process, the top industry people got concessions and contracts.
In the last four years, the BJP has spent hundreds of crores of rupees in destabilising state governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and bought MLAs to form governments in Goa and Manipur. In Maharashtra, it was clear as daylight that huge funds – some sources put it at more than Rs 200 crore – were mobilised to ensure the defection of the Eknath Shine group from the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray in July this year. Subsequently, the Shinde-BJP government was formed there.
On October 27, it was announced that the Tatas will set up a factory in Gujarat in collaboration with Airbus for the manufacture of transport planes for the Government of India. This was announced just on the eve of the state assembly elections in Gujarat.
Earlier, the dates of Himachal assembly polls were announced but Gujarat was kept pending as the EC apparently wanted to give time to the Centre to announce some more projects for Gujarat to influence the voters.
Earlier, a few weeks back, in the same way, Vedanta was forced by the Centre to set up its semi-conductor project in Gujarat in collaboration with Foxconn.
The Election Commission is acting as an appendage of the Centre but these two decisions on projects involving a total investment of more than Rs 40,000 crore, with the potential of generating two lakh jobs, are sure to have a deep impact on the electorate in Gujarat where the job crisis is acute.
How can the Centre take such unilateral decisions to set up mega projects in a particular state by denying the opportunity to another state which is equally affected by the unemployment crisis?
The electoral bonds scheme of 2017 is another way to channelise funds to the BJP for mobilising money for funding the elections. Latest data shows that the BJP secured more than 80 per cent of the funds from this scheme.
Similarly, five electoral trusts together disbursed 72 per cent of their total contributions of over Rs 481 crore to BJP in 2021-22 while the Congress shared a mere 3.8 per cent of the kitty.
The funding from the bonds or the poll trusts is all one way to BJP as the companies who donate do not want to antagonise the ruling party at the Centre and invite action through IT Dept, the CBI or the ED.
This fear among the Indian corporates is so overwhelming that even the young scions of the industrial families who are forward looking and do not like the BJP keep silent as they are not ready to risk the future of their companies just for the sake of some liberal personal thinking.
The net result is that there is no level playing field in the elections. The BJP is in a position to spend more than ten times money compared to the Opposition parties. It has a huge war chest to engineer defections where that is needed.
In the last eight years of Modi rule, there has been an unusual concentration of wealth in the Indian corporate sector. A recent study suggests that India's twenty most profitable firms generated 14 per cent of the total corporate profits in 1990, 30 per cent in 2010 and 70 per cent in 2019.
This means that there was a steep jump in the concentration of wealth in a few corporate houses just during five years of Narendra Modi’s rule. This process must have got further accentuated in the last three years.
Now how these profits have been made? An analysis by eminent economist Pranab Bardhan suggests that these profits were not due to innovations or a productivity increase but mainly due to market power. This means that the Prime Minister made the Indian market favourable for these selected houses for making high profits. This is part of the quid pro quo between the top industry and the Modi government.
What is significant about the corporate concentration in the last eight years is that Modi's ‘one nation one market’ concept has favoured the big companies as against the regional companies. The Modi govt’s policies have facilitated the process of withering the market competition and as a result, after eight years of Modi’s rule, in key sectors like telecom, airlines, steel, cement, aluminium, there are only two to three big players who control more than 59 per cent of the market.
What is the net result of this Modi govt-crony capitalists’ bonhomie on the nature of Indian economy? As Bardhan sees it, the crony oligarchs mainly operate in non-traded goods in highly regulated sectors where getting government favours is much more important than the need to compete in foreign markets.
The BJP’s new protectionist regime known as ‘atmanirbhar’ or self-reliance ends up making imported inputs more costly and exports less competitive. The result is a low productivity, oligarchic-autarchic economy.
This is evident from the data given in The Economist which shows that India’s share of billionaire wealth derived from ‘rent-thick’ or crony sectors rose from 29 to 43 per cent between 2016 to 2021.
The wealth of the crony capitalists has grown exponentially as against the decline in the real income of the common masses during the Modi rule.
The Opposition parties have to focus on this quid pro quo between the Indian crony capitalists and the Modi regime and demand a probe into how the big corporates are funding the ruling party BJP as a part of this long-term arrangement.
The electoral bonds scheme will again come up for hearing before the Supreme Court in December. The petitioners, as also the entire Opposition and democratic citizens, should demand that the Indian democracy should not be subverted by this collusion of Indian crony capitalists with the ruling party and the electoral bonds scheme must be withdrawn in its present form.
Views are personal